Want a Potbellied Pig?
Get the FAQs First!
Portions of these FAQs
appeared in the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association, Vol.
207, No. 12, December 15, 1995.
Although Vietnamese potbellied
pigs have been in the United States since 1985, there are still many misconceptions
about them. The following are just some:
1. Are all Vietnamese
potbellied pigs black? The original eighteen pigs potbellies brought
into the United States were almost entirely black. Through genetic engineering
and cross-breeding, potbellied pigs today have varied markings, including black
with white, pintos, all white, silvers with black spots, reds, reds with black
spots and even blues.
2. Vietnamese potbellied
pigs do not shed. Potbellied pigs raised outdoors will "blow their
coat" once or twice a year. Their hair will fall out and they will shed
a layer of skin. During this time, the pigs will engage in extreme scratching
behavior to remove their old hair and dead skin. Within a few weeks, a new coat
of hair will begin to grow. We recommend brushing to aid in the process. Potbellied
pigs raised indoors often have shorter hair and the shedding prcess frequently
takes longer to complete.
3. How long does
it take a potbellied pig to reach its adult size and weight? Some pigs
will grow until they are four or five years old. The majority of growth typically
occurs during the pig's first three and a half years.
4. How much does
an adult potbellied pig weigh? The original pigs brought to the United
States in 1985 matured at over 200 pounds. Pigs, a Handbook of the Breeds
of the World by Valerie Porter (copyright 1993, Cornell) states that Vietnamese
potbellied pigs wiegh 90-100 kg (198-220 lbs.) Although potbellied pig breeders
have tried to breed down the weight and size of potbellied pigs, the vast majority
still weigh an average of 125 lbs. Some breeders have developed a strain of
"micro-minis" which average between 9-11 lbs. at nine months of age;
however, we have never heard of one of these pigs living past eighteen months
5. Why do pigs
wallow in mud? Unlike cats and dogs, pigs cannot cool themselves by
panting. Nor can they sweat enough to cool themselves off, as humans do. To
lower their body temperature, pigs roll in something cool, such as mud or water.
Pigs usually prefer mud because it also protects them from sunburn and insect
6. Why do pigs
root, and are nose rings a humane method of stopping them? Pigs root
in and often eat dirt because it gives them vitamins and minerals they need.
They also eat small insects, grubs and worms that they find while rooting. Rooting
in dirt to search for food is a natural instinct. If you want a well-maintained
yard, do not put a pig in it. Nose rings are designed to stop a pig from rooting.
Nose rings are extremely cruel and painful. They prevent the
pig from obtaining needed nutrients and from digging mud holes to use when they
7. Do potbellied
pigs make good house pets? Potbellied pigs do NOT make wonderful house
pets. In fact, potbelleid pigs frequently become AGGRESSIVE when kept in the
home full-time. To be happy, healthy and non-aggressive, potbellied pigs must
have access to an outside area at all times, the companionship of at least one
other pig, and they must be neutered. To insure an appropriate placement for
the pig, we also recommend that they not be housed around small children or
dogs. If you are thinking about adopting a potbellied pig, here are some things
you should know:
How Pigs Fight. To understand why potbellied pigs become
aggressive, we need to understand their herd instincts. In the wild, pigs
travel in herds. Wihin this herd structure, there is a very defined heirarchy,
similar to a pecking order in chickens. When two pigs meet for the first time,
they fight -- often viciously. This fighting may include posturing and frothing
at the mouth; the hair on the back of the neck may stand up and the tail may
point straight out and wag. A fighting pig will position him or herself so
that his head aligns with the other pig's shoulder. The pigs will slam their
heads into each other's shoulders, cutting with their tusks and wiping the
foam from their mouths onto the other pig. This foam contains the pig's scent,
and marks the other pig with the smell. The fighting will continue until one
pig admits defeat and runs away. A pig fight to establish dominance in the
herd heirarchy can take hours.
Pigs appear to have very
little concept of size. An adult pig will fight with a piglet a tenth his
size, or with a farm pig ten times his size. Smaller pigs are frequently more
agile and it can be difficult for larger pigs to catch them.
We have also observed
behaviors such as tail biting, leg biting and ear biting. Although we know
of only one pig who has ever lost a tail during a fight, it is common for
major damage to occur to the ears. During a fight, pigs' ears can be split
in two or a portion may be completely ripped off. When this type of injury
occurs, the hurt pig will immediately submit to the dominant pig and search
out mud with which to coat his injury. By covering the injury in mud, the
pig prevents insects from accessing the wound.
in Potbellied Pigs Raised as Full-Time House Pets. Potbellied pigs
become aggressive when raised as full-time house pets. These pigs have several
things in common. First, they come from "single pigs" households;
second, they have little or no access to an outside area; and third, they
have been pampered and spoiled by their caretakers. When a person obtains a potbellied
piglet and raises it in the house, the piglet is maturing in an unnatural
environment. Aggression usually begins to appear when the pig is 12 to 18
months old, the age at which pigs mature mentally and their instincts begin
When a pig is raised
in a home, the pig believes the house is his territory and the people residing
in the house are his herd, all with a specific place in the herd heirarchy.
When a guest comes to visit, the potbellied pig believes a new "pig"
has just entered the herd. The pig will usually charge and snap at the newcomer
so he can determine where the guest falls within the herd's hierarchy. At
this point, most caretakers will move the pig to a room where the pig does not
have access to visitors and consider the problem solved. At 24-30 months of
age, however, the pigs will start to challenge the people with whom he has
been raised. This aggression is the pig's way of testing his herd mates in
an effort to move up the hierarchical ladder. The aggression occurs without
regard to the size of the pig's herd mates and this is usually the point at
which the pig's caretakers contact the Sanctuary requesting assistance.
c. What to Do If Your Potbellied
Pig is Aggressive. The
only way to deal effectively with an aggressive potbellied pig is to 1) move
the pig to an outside area, as this will change the pig's territory and 2)
if possible, obtain a second pig as a companion for the aggressive pig. We
suggest that the second pig be a female, as they are natural herd leaders.
The new pig should also be larger than the aggressive pig. The aggressive
pig will then most likely lose the fight for dominance and will have to submit
to the larger pig. Also, by being around another pig, the aggressive pig learns
that pigs and people are different and that people are not a part of the herd
d. Examples of Aggressive Pigs
Relocated to PIGS, a Sanctuary.
came from a single pig household, was never permitted outdoors and was pampered
to the point that he slept with his caretaker each night. When Norman's caretaker
had guests, Norman was placed in another room where no one could have contact
When Norman came to the Sanctuary,
he spent his first thirty days in quarantine. When humans would walk near
him, he would bite at the fence wire until his gums bled. After Norman's
quarantine was over, he was placed in an outside area adjacent to a pig
named Clifford. Norman and Clifford shared a common fence line that split
their pen in half. They also shared a sleeping area that was separated by
a fence panel. For two weeks, Norman and Clifford would run up and down
the fence posturing and biting each other. Only the fence prevented them
After this two week period, we took
down the outside fence allowing Norman and Clifford to have physical contact.
After only two day of interaction with another pig in an outside area, Norman
had learned to distinguish between people and pigs. Now, when we entered
Norman's pen, we could scratch and rub him for several minutes with no sign
of aggression. Within a week, we were able to take down the fence separating
Norman and Clifford's sleeping areas. Today, Norman lives with a herd and
shows no sign of aggression to the many people who visit the Sanctuary each
Pepe the Pig: Pepe
was another potbellied pig that had become aggressive. Like Norman, Pepe
was an only pig, received no outside time and led a very pampered life.
When Pepe's caretakers had guests, Pepe was placed in another room. The
caretaker's dilemma came when they brought a newborn home from the hospital.
To Pepe, the new baby was a new pig entering the herd, and he needed to
deterine where the baby stood in the hierarchy. Pepe's caretakers sent him
to an animal trainer for two months. The trainer told them that Pepe could
never be around any other people pigs because he would try to kill them.
Pepe is a white potbellied pig, and we have observed that the white potbellies
fight much more aggressively than others. When Pepe came to the Sanctuary,
he went through the same introduction as Norman. Today, Pepe lives in a
herd with many other potbellies. When people pass through his area, he is
the first in his herd to greet them.
e. Aggression in Cryptorchid
The staff at the Sanctuary has encountered
a few pigs that became aggressive even though they were raised in an appropriate
outdoor environment. In each of these cases, the pig was cryptorchid, that
is, the pig had an undescended testicle. To save money, the breeders in these
cases had chosen to castrate the male piglets themselves. However, when they
performed the castration, they removed only the descended testicle. Instead
of seeking veterinary assistance in removing the undescended testicle, the
pig was sold as neutered. These pigs all retained the same features as fertile
boars: a wide snout, long whiskers, shoulder plates, hair over the hooves
and a bushy tail. Upon removal of the retained testicle, all became non-aggressive.
f. Psychological Confusion in
Pigs Kept as Full-Time House Pets.
In addition to aggression, we have observed
that pigs raised alone as full-time house pets suffer from a form of mental
confusion. Since they have never been around other pigs and have not been
allowed to do normal pig things such as rooting, grazing, nesting, etc., they
are unable to communicate and interact with pigs.
For example, Casey came to the Sanctuary
when he was three and one-half years old. When placed in an area adjacent
to another pig, he simply sat in the corner of his pen and literally cried
for two days. He would not eat, drink or even move about. To teach Casey,
who was used to carpeting, to walk on the ground, we had to lay blankets on
the ground until he was in the middle of a grassy area. Then, we would pick
up the blankets, leaving Casey stranded in the middle of the yard. He was
forced to walk across the grass to return to his pen. The first time we did
this, he stood in the middle of the yard and refused to move for almost ten
minutes. After a few repetitions however, Casey learned to walk on the grass.
It took six months for him to reach the point where he was comfortable being
a pig. Today, Casey lives in a herd of pigs and is very well adjusted.